Online post about refusal to pay fatal accident claim goes viral

An online rant by a man whose sister was killed in a car crash in Baltimore went viral this week after he accused Progressive Advanced Insurance Co. of siding with the driver whose car hit his sister's vehicle in June 2010.

Matt Fisher's Monday post on sparked international coverage and a barrage of outraged tweets and comments. "If you are insured by Progressive, and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy," he wrote.

As the online chatter intensified and customers threatened via social media to drop Progressive as their insurer, the company responded on the Internet with condolences to the family and a defense of its handing of the case. The firm also addressed Fisher's statements.

"To be very clear, Progressive did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case," Chris Wolf, claims general manager for Progressive, said in an email Tuesday. "He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide."

The case — a study in the power of the Internet to galvanize consumers and affect business — revolves around the death of Kaitlynn Eileen Fisher. Her parents, Joan and Stephen Fisher, filed a lawsuit against the driver and Progressive in March 2011. After a three-day trial last week in Baltimore Circuit Court, a jury on Thursday issued a verdict in favor of the victim's family, awarding the Fishers $760,000.

Allen W. Cohen, an attorney for the Fisher family, said Tuesday that Progressive had denied a claim from the estate of Kaitlynn Fisher and forced the case to trial because the insurance company took the word of Ronald Kevin Hope III, the driver whose SUV hit the 24-year-old Johns Hopkins graduate at the intersection of North Calvert and 28th streets.

An attorney for Hope, Robin F. Kessler, declined to comment on the case other than to confirm that Progressive did not pay for Hope's defense.

Cohen, an attorney with the Annapolis firm Cohen and Greene, said Kaitlynn Fisher's policy covered the actions of an uninsured driver that caused injury or death up to $100,000. Matt Fisher described Hope as underinsured and said Progressive should therefore provide compensation.

Hope had coverage through Nationwide, which paid out $25,000 to Fisher's estate.

In the post, Matt Fisher described the accident: His sister, known as Katie, was driving north on North Calvert Street and was hit by a Ford Explorer as she crossed 28th Street, sending her Honda Insight head-on into a light pole.

Matt Fisher said the SUV driver's insurance company settled after a witness said Hope had run a red light. But Progressive, his sister's insurer, refused to pay out a claim.

Matt Fisher's account was reported online in the New York Observer, the Huffington Post, and The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, among other outlets. It was cited repeatedly in blogs and on Twitter.

Many who responded to Matt Fisher's post were outraged by Progressive's handling of the case.

"This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure," Progressive tweeted. "We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again, this is a tragic situation, and we're sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through."

On Twitter, many writers said they planned to cancel their Progressive policies.

Katie Fisher graduated with an undergraduate degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins, from which she also received a master's degree, and was working as a contractual employee for the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen.

Cohen, the Fishers' lawyer, said the jury determined that "Miss Fisher had the green light and Ronald Hope had the red light."

Asked who would pay the $760,000 judgment, Cohen said, "We're still working that out."